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Wine and Food Wednesday
Ibérico Fresco: Another Reason to Like Grenache

By Stephen Eliot

“Pigs and Pinot” was the featured topic a few weeks back, and the spotlight shines once again on pork, but pork quite unlike any that I have experienced before. The same pork that when cured is justly revered as one of the greatest culinary treats in the world, Jamon Ibérico de Bellota, has hitherto been unavailable in the United States in its fresh form, but as of February should be found in select stores under the name of Ibérico Fresco.

The purebred Ibérico pig is raised in free-range conditions in the pesticide- and herbicide-free meadows and oak forests of Southwestern Spain and is fattened in the autumn months on a diet of freshly fallen acorns that are said to impart a unique nutty flavor to its meat. Much prized for its marbling, its high levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and oleic acid, and its extraordinarily rich flavor, Ibérico Fresco has been called the Kobe Beef of pork.

I was recently invited to a professional seminar at Sausalito’s Cavallo Point Cooking School that celebrated the imminent American arrival of Ibércio Fresco. Chef Dani Martin of Barcelona prepared a wide range of recipes that highlighted this altogether remarkable product. The day’s menu included “Tataki of Ibérico two ways with Wild Mushrooms and Truffle Veil”, “Carpaccio of Ibérico Fresco with Foie Gras”, “Roasted Ibérico Fresco Sirloin Tip”, and “Roasted Loin of Ibérico with Cocoa Beans, Red Berries and Bread Crumbs”, among a good many other remarkable dishes. Each plate was nothing less than a real revelation.

This was simply the richest and most succulent pork I have ever encountered. It was, in truth, something other than anything I would recognize as pork. Now I grew up in an era when pork was always cooked to the point of resembling old leather, but Chef Dani recommended that Ibérico Fresco be cooked to no more than medium-rare. I confess to deep trepidation then abject delight as I finished my Carpaccio of raw pork! Halfway to the savory strength of the finest beef, but of an entirely different character, Ibérico Fresco fills a unique gastronomic niche all its own, and I enthusiastically now count myself among the newly enlightened.

So, what is the right wine to serve as its foil? Pinot Noir can work, but it will need to be one of the more substantial versions, and those made by DuMol, Kosta Browne, Dehlinger and Merry Edwards would be nothing short of ideal. A bottle or two of Rioja Crianza made its way around the room, and there is no question that Ibérico Fresco has the richness to measure up to fine Tempranillo. I secretly wished for an old-vine Garnacha or a well-ripened California Grenache such as the stunning Grey Stack 2007 from Bennett Valley, and it will be just such a bottle that will be in one hand as I head to the kitchen sometime next month with a fresh cabecero (sirloin tip) of Ibérico Fresco in the other.

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